By Skyler Isaac
When in Whitehorse, where can children and youth, or those who may have concerns about the young people in their lives, go during hard times?
The youth assistance landscape in the Yukon is not so barren. For years organizations such as the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, the Boys & Girls Club, BYTE: Empowering Youth and the Shakat Journal’s own Youth of Today Society, have been providing necessary services and support to youth at risk.
One service provider in town that many may not have heard of is the Yukon Child & Youth Advocate Office which opened in 2010. This office is located in downtown Whitehorse across from the old library. The mission statement is a simple one:
“The Child Advocate Office provides advocacy support services to Yukon’s children and youth by protecting and upholding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, while ensuring their voices are heard and considered within a safe environment.”
The Child Advocate Office advocates for all of the Yukon’s children and youth who are eligible to receive Yukon Government services and programs such as Youth Justice, Education, Family and Children Services, Mental Health and Hospital Services. Annette King, in her appointed position as the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate makes sure the voices of the children and youth are heard and considered in these programs.
“Although there are a variety of priorities considered when decisions are being made, the views and preferences of children and youth are sometimes way down on the list,” King explains.
She cites an YCAO systemic review from 2016 after a number of youth had been sent down south to receive treatment. These youth often arrived in their new surroundings completely confused, “Sometimes what they were told was that they were being put on a plane the next day,” King recalls. “[The youth] didn’t know what their treatment plan was, they didn’t know where they were going and weren’t informed when they would be allowed to come back home.”
The Advocate’s Office offers different forms of advocacy support to youth. Recently, the organization was appointed to conduct an independent review of youth’s experiences in group homes run by the Yukon Government – after several group home residents and workers reported their concerns regarding instances of neglect, abuse and violence against the young people in care. King has stated that she will make sure the review is culturally relevant and hopes that it will create a significant and meaningful change for children and youth. The office will be meeting with young people this fall to ensure their views are included.
The Advocate Office is also involved in a number of side projects. One is a film by young director, Carrie Davis, which chronicles youth who are aging out of group home care. The film hopes to bring awareness to the general public about the experiences of youth who live in group homes that are run by the Yukon Government. “Too often the community is left uninformed about what happens to youth when they are removed from their families and communities” Davis explains, “as a result the issues get swept under the rug and go unnoticed.”
In spring 2017 the Advocate Office also formed a one year partnership with the Jays Care Foundation, the charity arm of the Toronto Blue Jays, to create the Yukon’s own Rookie League Program. This program focused on teaching youth coaching and leadership skills. Having children lead the project was a first of its kind for the Jays Care Foundation. King says this program was inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. Bringing children together through the teamwork of sport is an excellent way to help bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, while inspiring tomorrow’s leaders.
Not allowing a child or youth to have a say in their lives is an outdated and unproductive system – especially when it affects their mental health, or their ability to attend school or take part in routine activities.
Social justice for youth in the system is a cause that’s close to Annette King’s heart. Advocacy is defined as public support for a particular cause or policy, and she uses her position and her voice to bring attention to the views of those who can’t speak for themselves. Sometimes what professionals think the child needs and what the child has to say aren’t the same.
“I think the people who need [our program] the most are young people who are feeling vulnerable, who are not accessing services, who don’t know how to access any services,” she says. It’s clear to King that not enough children and youth come through her door in their time of need.
Although they work on over 100 new issues per year for children and youth, the concern is that the youth who need YCAO the most are not coming through their doors: “Many kids today have an adult who is considering what’s best for them, and the kids that don’t have that need us to do more to help them find us”.
If you are a child or youth looking for an experienced opinion, please visit the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office at 2070 2nd Avenue in Whitehorse, Yukon, or call them at (867) 456-5575.
Major cultural change starts with speaking out. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard.